Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Oh my, I can't believe my luck. Today, I went to the post office and after a particulary difficult interaction with the workers and a quick trip to the bank, I was finally awarded two packages! Thank you thank you thank gramma for the cookies and Aunt Deb for the sunscreen and goodies. Oh my goodness. I had to open the packages in front of the customs officers and I started bawling right then and there. This country has me on an emotional roller coaster. Anyway, a white woman was standing next to me and came over and put her arm around me. I turned into the hug and clung to her for a couple of minutes. She introduced herself and gave me her card. We chatted a bit and I found out that she has been here for five years and is a seminary teacher near where I stay. She told me to call her mom and I ended up driving around town with her. She brought me to her house and fed me salad and homemade christmas cookies and now I am typing this post in an air conditioned office on a computer that runs faster then a snail! I am so thankful that I have met her and her husband. She is the breath of support that I need. I think I can learn a lot from this couple about how to manage in Ghana. They have been all over the country and are going to South Africa next week. Oh yes, an American who works at the women's center of the orphanage might be going to Mole National Park where the animals roam next week. I am trying to see if I can go along with her. She has been in Ghana for a year and half. This Christmas has been, I don't know, amazing in a way! If I learn one thing in Ghana that I can pass on when I get back, it is to be more generous and giving. I have been much too selfish in my life and a want to promise myself to look for opportunities to give on a simple plane, like some of the people I have encountered here like paying a bus fair or giving an extra penny here and there or taking someone home for dinner and being more compassionate. I need to be less penny pinching and self-involved. I have given far less then I have taken in this country and for that matter the history of my life. And if you want to send something for the school, letters seem to be a bit more reliable and stickers are a great thing that would fit in an envelope. Packages take too long and are too expensive. This little piece of advise from the semanary teacher.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Time is an amazing phenominon. Seconds seem to pass so quickly, hours drag on and daylight fades into another night. When I look back on the past eight weeks, I wonder where all the time went. I can barely recall all that has happened. The memories are distant and I feel like I've been in Ghana for years. But then my mind snaps and it's as iff yesterday I was first slapped in the face by Ghana's heat. And even though it seems like ages before I board the plane to take me back to rainy Seattle, the time will pass and I will marvel at how quickly it fettered away.

I fell into a comfortable routine while teaching at the school. Wake up at 5:oo am, listen to the sounds of morning and doze until 6:00, read untill 6:30, drink tea and get ready untill 7:30, write in my journal and play the guitar untill 7:50, walk to school with Dan, teach untill, 10:00, break until 10:20, teach, lunch with Gloria while she serves the kids rice and stew or beans and rice until 1:30, teach until 3:00, walk to Adenta (20 min) or Madina (1 hr), walk home, eat dinner, and sleep by 9:00.

Of course, something new happens everyday, so I don't ever get too cozy. Dec 12, I attended an engagement of class one teacher, Millicent. In Ghana, the ceremony start three hours late, the microphone cuts out, the engagees don't smile and the couple is considered married. Even thought the man is the only one who gives a ring. What's called an engagement in Ghana is essentially the act of marrying. However, some Ghanaians have a separate wedding ceremony where both exchange rings in a church on the same day or even years later. The engagement, taking place outdoors, is ceremony enough, with the man's family presenting the woman's family with a dowry payment (schnappy, suitcases, money...), dancing, prayer, speeches, and refreshments. In Northern Ghana, marriages are patrilinear and the woman's father administers the engagement but in the south, the marriages are matrilinear and the maternal uncle administers. Millicent's uncle, chairman of the ceremony, declared his undying love for me and was quite persistant despite the fact that I told him I was engaged and even so, not ready to get married. He assured me he would wait five or six years for me. I was his lifelong dream come true. An obruni, alive and in person! During the ceremony, he was giving a winded speech and twi and I was therefore, off in outerspace. Suddenly, I felt eyes boring into me and the women behind me were jostling me out of my chair. Clinton was talking at me in Enlish saying that I was to share the opening dance with Millicent's uncle, alone. Looking back on the experience, it makes quite a story but truthfully, I was embarassed and uncomfortable.

At school, I planned an art project. I fee the their creative side is not simulated enough. I saved 500 ml water sachets and and bought dried beans and string. I had the kids fill the sachets with beans and blow air into the remaining space and seal the sachets with string. The crude rattles proved to be a success but they also revealed the children's poor grasp of rhythm. Eventually, we lapsed into a talen show with the kids crawling over eachother to sing or tell a story. The rattles were forgotton. The otherday, I taught them hangman. I also began pen pal program with some kids from Florence, Montana. I took individual pictures and they all wrote letters.
Dear American Students,
My name is Kwame/Mercy/Berther. I am 5/8/10 years old. I have 11/2/4 siblings. I like to play ampe/football. When I grow up, I want to be a soldier/manger/nurse/teacher/pilote. What is your favorite subject?
Yours faithfully, Felix/Priscilla/Emmanuel.
The 17th was, as the kids say, OUR DAY. I was met by kids in their Sunday best instead of their white and green plaid uniforms. They mundhed on biscuts, toffees and soda. We gathered in the nursury for their talent show. KG performed wonderfully and class 6 had a great native drum/dance sequence. Then they feasted. They came to school with picnic baskets full of spaghetti, rice and stew and biscuts and minerals. Gloria cooked Jollof rice for the teachers and we ate in solomn silence while the kids screached and danced outside.

The headmaster, Clinton, has become bit of a guide for me. He offered to take me to his hometown, Dodowa, to see the 1000 year old forest and his 4 day old baby son. Dodow is the mango capital of Ghana. To my dismay but not my surprise, the forest guards were away and we couldn't enter. His son was adorable, small and quiet. He was bundled in a blanket, sweating in the stuffy ghetto heat. Clinton just sat, dumb, in the room. He didn't even introduce his son's mother to me. I felt very weird in this silent room with a woman nursing her child and me not having anywhere elso to look. Finally, a couple of neighbors burst in, tickling and cooing at the baby. I asked Clinton why he didn't hold his son and the neighbors whisked the baby into his arms. That was the first time he'd ever held his child. Then I got a turn and we checked for the appropriate number of fingers, toes and you know what's. When we left Clinton said he needed a name for his son and he wanted to use my father's name. So Nicholas he is.

Clinton also accompanied me to Kiddafest 2004 in Accra. It was a day full of events for and by kids. The main performance was three hours of drumming, dancing and sketches from Nigeria and Ghana. My favorite was a satyrical sketch/dance with drums and overexaggerated movements and gestures. I laughed and laughed over a huge wad of sugarcane hanging out of the market women's mouths. I loved everything I saw including a rasta dance to a Michael Jackson medley. They encorporated traditional african moves with Michael Jackson staples. I also made it to the semi finals of a dance contest. I still can't believe I was on stage shimmying and doing rubber knees in front of a hundred or so black kids. Though I didn't win first, I was definately the most memorable and spent the rest of the days fielding complements and mockeries. I can easily say this has been the best cultural experience. Instead of championing the western culture, they were honoring their own traditions!

The second day of the festival was canceled (surprise, surprise) so I explored Mokola Market which was the spitting image of every other market in Ghana. I walked from central Accra to Osu neighborhood. Their are only a few street signs and even then it is ambiguous as to which street belongs wo which side. So my trek was a bit hairy at times. However, I did discover the fairly monumentous Independence Square with an arch and the Sports Complex with rowdy Nigerian football fans horsing around outside. Osu is the "white neighborhood" if you could even call it that. It has a supermarket and a bookstore and an airconditioned icecream/pasteries shop. In the grocery store while I was drooling over 6 dollar boxes of cereal and 4 dollar boxes of herbal tea the instumental of my favorite song from Jesus Christ Superstar came on. And as if I wasn't already making the cornflakes soggy with tears, Imagine came on immediately after.

However, nastalgia aside, I am constantly humbled by the generousity of the Ghanaians. Clinton, barely making 300,000 c/$25 a month, insists on paying my bus fare, a lady selling roasted plantains in arguably the richest neighborhood of town insists on giving me two for the price of one, the women who I chatted with in the market once shoves onions into my bag, Valerie cooks a full dinner for me even though she doesn't know me, Florence, a complete stranger on the tro-tro pays my fare and the taxi driver asks for food and then offers to drive me as he was going that way anyway and I see a Ghanaian women hand a blind begger 2000c.

Ghanaian cuitsine has little variety outside of the staple foods. Rice or foo or yam and oily stew or soup with chicken , dried fish or goat is the most common. Soups include peanutbutter, light, okra, eggplant, and fish. Fermented corn rols called kenke or banku with salso or soup is also popular. My favorites include red red(plaintains and spiced beans) and jollof rice ( spiced rice with cabbage, corn and tomatoes) and mpotam potam, a thick yam stew. Though Ghanaians doen't really have salad, Cecilia keeps cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and weird mayonnaise dressing on hand. I eat pineapple for breakfast but most Ghanaians eat rice water, omelettes, kooko porridge or any of the above listed foods. I completely died when I tred a drink called Forah. It is made from gineaflour, ginger, pepper and hot peppers. It is better then chai. I am going to learn how to prepare it but guinea flour might be tough to get my hands on in the states. Overall, eating meat has not been as tramatic as I had feared and most days I dont even have the option. I am decidedly not a fan of anything goaty.

I have been spending my vacation at a nearby orphanage. It is run by a Spaniard named Mama Lisa. The orphanage has around 50 to 60 kids from a couple months old to 24. Ghanaians don't really move out until they get married. Much to my surprise, the the orphanage is really clean, well staffed, and equipped. Mama Lisa, it seems has raised and trained her staff well. I can't really explain how amazing the children are. Just at a point when I felt quite directionless, I find toddlers joyfully playing hide and go seek and girls teaching me how to play their games or crochet. The younger boys crowd around me and listen to me read or arm wrestle with me. I am constantly searching for the boy with my hanky, glasses or watch. Today, I finished reading a watered down version of Tom Sawyer to them. Mama Lisa asked me to help with the toddlers especially King who is mentally ill and Peter who was locked in a closet for three months and only says ma and banana. They are a handfully and destroy most everything they touch. On xmas eve, I was preparing to leave around 5:00 when Mama Lisa insisted then I join them at a carol service. She sent me to her house to bath and pick out one of her african print dress. She sat next to me while I ate Jollof rice and they all clapped when I appeared at the dinner table. The carols wer nice but the most monumentous thing was the declaration of several young boys that I was there mother. Since then, we have been most insperable. They hold my hand, hug my legs, lead me around, tickle my hands, take piggy back rides and read to me. After the service, Mama Lisa had one of the older boys take me to my doorstep. On xmas day, Cecilia killed two chickens. The orphanage killed a goat. I don't like goat. I spent the morning playing hide and go seek with the toddlers and desperatly trying to keep my sarong up while they tugged on it. Everyone recieved presents. Mama Lisa gave me the dress I had worn the night before. The toddlers got soft stuffed animals, the small boys, magic tricks, the girls jump ropes and teh older boys CDs and traditonal shirts. We played sports in the afternoon and had iced kenke and meatpies. I learned how to play ampe and a game similar to rock, paper, scissors. I stayed for dinner, fried rice and goat. I don't like goat. I danced with the older boys and and the little babies. Doreen, a teeage girl, very shy and negative even danced with me a bit. I try to get her to tell me something positive every day. Joseph, a 21 year old film student, is teaching me to be rasta woman. After the toddlers went to bed and baby abigail had fallen asleep on my sholder, I told Mama Lisa that I had come to help but she had given me so much more then I could ever give. Jo saw me home and I sat outside and stared at the moon before going to bed. I marvel at this country and my changing attitudes towards it. I can't believe the journey I've made from idly planting trees to teaching to making friends with kids that hug me and hold my hand and honestly feel comfortable with me.

I recieved a two letters from Gramma Pat and have just received word that two packages are at the post office for me. One of the letteres took 10 days to arrive. We'll have to see if there is anything left in the packages. Horray!!!

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday. Happy New Year or Afishyapa, as the Ghanaians say!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Oh, I'm late, I know. That's the problem with developing a routine. I wrote a little something for this post but as I read it, I am thinking it is not the kind of thing I would like to post. I really don't know what to say but that this uphill battle is halfway overwith as of today and I can't wait to get home. The school kids vacated today with quite a party and talent show. They bring biskests (good lord, how do you spell that word) and minerals and fancy food from home and eat themselves sick and dance and dance. I brought string and made friendship bracelets. I taught some of them how to do it themselves. They are demanding little things. No manners. I also snapped individual pictures of the kids in class one. They wrote letters to kids that my Aunt teaches in Montana. They are really excited about talking to American kids. I am very nervous that the postal system will fail them and they will never get letters from the US. I sent out the letters and pictures yesterday. So, I have vacation for 18 long days. I am trying to psych myself up to go to the north and explore the towns there. I am not altogether excited about this prospect as I am sure it will be more of the same. But I must do something with my time or I will go crazy.
I am thinking of keeping a marriage offer count. I think I'm around 50 or so. I was at an engagement the other day and Millicent's (teacher getting engaged) uncle, an old man. was so persistant about marrying me. He even said he would wait 5 or 6 years. I told him I was married but that didn't stop him. I was zoning out during his speech suddenly found that all eyes were on me. The ladies were pushing me out of the chair and babbling in nonesense. Well, some poor soul finally translated and said that the uncle wanted to share a first dance with me, ALONE. Well, I danced and was embarassed but I guess now, I have a story to tell you!

Julie, your email was such a light in the dark. I can't imagine sleeping on the ground in that kind of environment. Please keep up the emails. They save me every week. I do write a lot in my own journal but, I get frustrated because it never comes out right.

Phone's down again :(

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I was at my wit's end this weeekend. School didn't meet on Friday because of Farmer's Day and it seemed as though I couldn't waiste time fast enought. You would think that Africa would be teeming with diversity and culture and in some ways it is. However, the constant struggle with poverty leaves little time or money for extra flourishes like parks, libraries, cultural centers or museums for tourists like me. In my free time(which I have a lot of) I have braved the horendous traffic, heat, and should of Obruni and ventured to several villages. Needless to say, if you've seen one, you've seen them all. Crooked shacks housing salons, stationary shops, chop bars, curio shops, taylors and convience goods line the streets. Every village has a market and taxi/tro tro station and besides tightly packed laundry strewn neighborhoods, there is nothing else. I guess the refreshing thing about this is that there is not a commercialized coffee shop on every corner. America should follow Ghana's example of establishing small private businesses.
The idea of starting my own business has been swimming around in my mind for some time and Saturday, I decided to give it a go in Ghana. The main income source in the villages comes from selling chop(food) on the roadside and armed with plastic bags, a serated knife, groundnut paste, bananas, brown bread, and paper signs declaring my wares, I set out to join the venders. My main challange was finding an empty table that I could set up on. But finally a man named Sam running a lotto booth at a popular road junction in Adenta(about 20 min walk from where I stay) let me use and empty table in front of him. I drew quite a crowd as I set up my signs and started making a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Several Ghanaians caught on to the foreign concept of sandwich and started calling out to passerbyers to try my American sandwich. Finally, a brave soul in the crowd bought a sandwich and I soon finished my one loaf of bread. I decided to continue selling so I packed up( I didn't want to leave my things set up while shopping for more supplies) and went in search of more bread and groundnun paste(across the street and down a bit). There was a banana table right next to my table. My main clientel seemed to be young men mainly interested in marrying my, but some older women were brave enought to try the new chop. Most people walked by staring and once past, broke into laughter. At the end of the day (3:00) I had sold 21 sandwiches at 2000c each. My profits: 21000c or 2.50 dollars. As I walked home, I felt strangly satisfied but even more mystified by how thse people survive. The average Ghanaian makes about 330 dollars a year. Granted my fellow sellers were selling staple foods and for a much longer period druing the day, so hopefully make more but the comme center to my left and the banana table on my right did less business than I did.
This brings me to Melinda, the level one teacher in my school. She is 25 and has a 7 month old daughter. She assures me that they have everything they need in their school. I am amazed at this assertion. However, I guess that we have so much in our schools in America that we are blinded by our excess. I have been thinking about some of your offers to send supplies or money. I think it would be best to send money to my mother and she will deposite it in my account. Then I can buy supplies here. A pack of crayons costs about 25 cents and a note book around 16 cents. Also if you have any fun games or songs that don't take a lot of suggestions could you pass them on. I have taught them the hokey pokey and the ants go marching and bingo and the itsy bitsy spider. Any suggestion would be welcome. My mom's address is Stacey Miller 2252 Westfield Court Missoula Montana 59801.

Dan's cellphone is working again!